Enhancing Boston’s Startup Scene with Greenhorn Connect

Jason Evanish came up with the idea to launch Greenhorn Connect while attending the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) unConference in Boston in October 2009. The unconference (a participant-driven meeting) is an event for newcomers to veterans involved throughout the Boston entrepreneurial community to join together, share ideas and improve the Boston startup scene.

In a session called “Turbocharging the Culture in Massachusetts,” the panelists, Tim Rowe, founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center, and Scott Kirsner, a Boston Globe reporter, led a discussion on how to make the Boston entrepreneurship ecosystem stronger.

“[The panelists] talked about how there was so much was going on in the ecosystem and how no one was keeping track of it,” Evanish said. “They said, ‘We need a website to do that!’ and I raised my hand at the end and said, ‘I’ve worked on that  … we’re going to do that!’” 

The panelists and audience members were surprised by his announcement, but offered to support Evanish with his project—if he could launch the site by the following week.

Evanish, who was studying for his Master’s in Technical Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University, immediately got the ball rolling, teaming up with his friend Ashkan Afkhami, also a Northeastern student (making up the second half of the “we’re” Evanish had promised would create the site). Together, the pair began producing what would come to be known as Greenhorn Connect.

Previously, Afkhami and Evanish had teamed up to create a wiki, or an online collaboration space, to figure out what was going on within the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem, a system that remained confusing to many entrepreneurs. The wiki listed and categorized events happening in Boston for entrepreneurs and individuals interested in the startup community in attempts to make the system less confusing for entrepreneurs.

The final product of Greenhorn Connect evolved out of this wiki, becoming a full-scale website available to the public.

“We started simplistically, trying to categorize events, what to go to and what not to go to, figuring out what were the biggest things going on in Boston that people should be aware of, and so on,” Akfhami said. “Jason started going to events, kicking tires around, and I was basically in charge with finances—but in a small startup, everybody does a little bit of everything.”

Greenhorn Connect launched on Oct. 13, 2009, and has been expanding based on the entrepreneurial community’s needs ever since, Evanish said. Though Afkhami has since left Greenhorn to concentrate fully on his own startup company MobiquityInc, a mobile computing professional services firm based in Boston, Evanish has continued to work on Greenhorn Connect in addition to his fulltime job. He also recruited more members for the Greenhorn team, bringing both Ian Stanczyk as product manager and Pardees Safizadeh as social media director for the site.

“Greenhorn Connect is a website that’s meant for entrepreneurs, that’s made by entrepreneurs,” said Safizadeh. “[The site] helps entrepreneurs move their businesses forward and gets them to wherever the next point is for them, whether it’s getting funding, finding new team members or just going out and meeting people and being part of the Boston startup community.”

DemoCamp Boston, a showcase of startup companies, is just one of the many events listed on the Greenhorn Connect Event Calendar. Click the image to see more photos from the event.

The website consists of resources and news for entrepreneurs, a job board for startup companies and  those seeking positions within startup companies, and an event listings board that describes what events are going on in the Boston community each month, accompanied by a summary each week highlighting the most valuable events individuals can go to each week. Events pertaining to the interests of entrepreneurs such as DemoCamp Boston, which is a showcase of new startup companies in the Boston area, are common on the event calendar.

The name ‘Greenhorn Connect’ was coined after the same info session Evanish attended at the MassTLC unConference that led to the idea for the website.

“[The panelists] made a list of things that entrepreneurs needed to do better in our ecosystem, and one thing was ‘Take more chances on greenhorns,’” Evanish said.

After looking up the definition of ‘greenhorn,’ which essentially means a newcomer, Evanish realized it made perfect sense as a name for the site.

“The problem we were initially trying to solve with Greenhorn was to help new and young people who have no way of knowing how to get integrated in the startup community,” Evanish said. “So the idea was to connect greenhorns to what they needed.”

Today, the Greenhorn team is trying to foster a sense of community in Boston through the website, pushing information out through Twitter and Facebook daily, Safizadeh said.

“I’ve integrated Greenhorn into my everyday life,” Safizadeh said. “Basically, you have to go to these networking events to be part of the company, to be part of the entrepreneurial community. Because if you’re fostering a community, you need to be part of the community you foster. There’s no other way to do it!”

Going to all these events is particularly challenging, because all member of the Greenhorn Team have fulltime jobs—at startups other than Greenhorn. Evanish works at oneforty, a social business software company located in Cambridge. Safizadeh works as an account manager at Harron and Associates, a non-profit public relations firm in Boston, and Stanczyk is in the process of building a new product within the social fundraising space.

To juggle their full-time jobs, social life and responsibilities with Greenhorn Connect, the team members do a lot of work individually after their day jobs are over, and try to meet once at least once a month, Safizadeh said.

“[The team] tries to talk whenever we can,” Safizadeh said. “We try to have a once a month meeting where we all sit down and talk about the state of everything. We go through what we want to change, what’s been working and what hasn’t been working—and we’re just constantly analyzing how we can make this easier for ourselves.”

Aaron Gerry, president of Northeastern University’s Entrepreneurship Club, says he uses Greenhorn Connect on a weekly basis, as do many of the general members in he Entrepreneurship Club. He looks for Greenhorn TV, a weekly feature on the site that lists the best and most-anticipated startup events in Boston for that specific week,

“Greenhorn TV is one of the better ways to figure out what is going on in Boston,” Gerry said. “There’s over 15 to 20 events every week in Boston, so it’s difficult to figure out which ones you should be going to. Some are really good and highly educational, but some are awful. [Greenhorn Connect] is good for vetting out what events are worth going to.”

Michael Champion, vice president of engineering at oneforty, said the job board on Greenhorn Connect is unique and one of the website’s best features because it gives applicants an idea of what the actual company culture is like.

“It’s not just a list of requirements, like, job applicant must have X, Y and Z, but it’s a bit more about what’s interesting about this company,” Champion said. “It’s a great resource for young people trying to understand what it would be like to work at these companies.”

As for future plans, Evanish hopes to monetize the job board featured on the Greenhorn Connect website, which has been a free feature in the past, as well to increase usability of the site and make it easier for visitors to comment, using their Twitter, Google or Facebook accounts to log in.

Increasing usability will also increase more commentary, audience participation, and more site users in general, helping to accomplish what Evanish set out to do: “Make it easier for people to get things done with their startup.”

To learn more about Greenhorn Connect, visit www.greenhornconnect.com.

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Presenting Ventures and Successes at DemoCamp Boston

On April 6, I attended DemoCamp Boston at the Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Mass.

The event consisted of seven presentations of startup companies, as well as a kick-off speech by successful entrepreneur and president of Harkador Partners Brad Harkavy on “10 Things Entrepreneurs Should Know.”

What should entrepreneurs know, you may ask?

According to Harkavy:

  1. You are not the only one with your idea
  2. Timing is everything
  3. Secrecy rarely helps
  4. Your company will survive one or two direct hits
  5. Understand your market size (TAM)
  6. Media coverage is really fun, but also a huge distraction.
  7. Your business plan will change
  8. Patents are a marketing tool
  9. First to market is not enough
  10. More Oxygen in startup offices (a personal belief of Harkavy)

Representatives from startups peerTransfer, Rate It Green, InstantNightlife, DailyFeats, Innovation Nights, Embed.ly and Vizibility all had five minutes to present their venture, business plan and main goals and then had the chance to receive five minutes of feedback from the audience. After advice, critiques and ideas were exchanges, participants and audience members had the chance to stay, eat, drink and network with one another (which nearly everyone took advantage of).

Mariana Espinosa Kicked Off DemoCamp Boston with Hult dean Henrik Totterman. Click the photo for more.

The most interesting startup presented (in my opinion) was Vizibility, a company that uses SEO to enhance your visibility through Google searches. As a junior in college getting ready to apply to full-time jobs next May, I think this way of curating a top five list of Google links for myself would be a great way to help our future employers, as well as weed out any “bad” or “unhelpful” links individuals may get when they Google my name.


Greenhorn Connect Round 2

Since this blog was created primarily as a tool for my Reinventing the News class, I must now share with you all what I am planning to do as my final project for the course. I can’t believe that it’s already time to start thinking about finals, but due to Northeastern’s wacky schedule, there is only about 6 weeks (or less?) left in the semester.

The final projects requires a feature story–in addition to creating a slide show, video and social media component–about an aspect of digital media. For my final project, I want to return on to a subject I visited earlier in the semester: Greenhorn Connect.

If you read my earlier post on Greenhorn Connect, you would know that Greenhorn Connect is a community website that helps to build connections within the Boston entrepreneur ecosystem. The site features resources, events and even lists available jobs in the Boston area relevant to entrepreneurs. It’s mission is “to deliver relevant content to entrepreneurs and help channel the energy and enthusiasm of ‘greenhorns.’” Their term of ‘greenhorns’ refer to are newcomers, or in other words, entrepreneurs.

I think for my project, I would like to write a profile on the founders of the site, Ashkan Afkhami and Jason Evanish, as well as their associates Pardees Safizadeh and Ian Stanczyk, about how they came up with the site, what they are doing with the site as well as what they plan to do with it in the future.

I would love to analyze and profile the way the founders and associates use the website as well as social media to inform entrepreneurs and those interesting in entrepreneurship about events, resources and different ways to network in the Boston community relevant to their needs and interests. I believe I could get video interviews with some of these people of Greenhorn Connect, because they are local, and perhaps a slideshow could be used to show a member of the team covering an event, or showcasing their business at an exhibit (which is actually how I first came in contact with the group, at NEXPO 2011). The social media component could focus on how the team uses Twitter to publicize their website and get their information out to the public.

Although I have already told you a great deal about Greenhorn Connect, I’m very excited to dive in, dig deeper, and provide you with even more information about the site in general as well as the founders and their ideas and plans for the future.


More Grilled Cheese, Please — Via Twitter!

You’ve heard of hot dog stands, pretzel stands and coffee stands. Venues like these have become popular in concert venues, train stations, airports and even out on the street. But have you ever heard of a cheese stand?

Whether you have heard of one or not, Cheeseboy in South Station is proof that cheese stands do exist. Well, grilled cheese stands.

Cheeseboy  specializes in grilling up and serving out every kind of cheese sandwich possible, with all the amenities you could ask for–tomato, bacon, lettuce, ham, basil, ect.

Today, I went to Cheeseboy in South Station for the very first time. I heard about it from my friend Frank, who mentioned he couldn’t wait to get a Cheeseboy grilled cheese sandwich before leaving South Station the day he took a Bolt Bus home for President’s Day weekend.

After a brief Google search, I came across an article from Boston.com detailing the origins of Cheeseboy. Turns out, Cheeseboy is the product of an entrepreneur! Michael Inwald, 30, founder of the venue, believes the grilled cheese sandwich is “part of national culture.”

A second article I found from BizJournal.com describes Cheeseboy as a “twist” on the standard burger-and-fries or fried chicken fast food venue. And it is. Americans love grilled cheese, and it only took one bright mind to realize that specializing in grilled cheese could be a great business opportunity.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea — Who doesn’t love grilled cheese?! So today, instead of making a boring sandwich or having a soggy bowl of cereal in my apartment, I ventured over to South Station.

Cheeseboy is smack-dab in the middle of South Station, directly under and to the left of the giant digital time board that posts all of the departure times of the different trains and buses that leave from the station in the main concourse. There was already a good amount of people waiting in line, and even more waiting at the pick-up line to grab their orders. However, service was quick. Cheeseboy does have a bigger menu than you might think, due to its limited focus on grilled cheese.

I walked around a bit and talked to some of the people in line before ordering my lunch: A “Classic” grilled cheese sandwich (valued at $2.99) with some tomato (an extra .49 cents) and a bottle of water. Lunch for under $6? What a great deal!

Nick Celano, 22, was traveling for his spring break and in line for Cheeseboy. He said he was getting a “Make Your Own” sandwich with multigrain bread and cheddar and monster cheese.

“I think it’s awesome,” Celano said about Cheeseboy. He went on to talk about how grilled cheese is a great travel option, because unlike other sandwiches or fast food burgers, it’s hard for grilled cheese to fall apart.

Once I got my sandwich, I ate it pretty quickly. It came in a neat little box, but you could see the grease from the outside! Not my healthiest meal this week.

The taste was definitely worth it, though. I wasn’t completely full after finishing, but I figured one grilled cheese sandwich was enough for then, and if I needed more food I could get a snack later.

Below are my live-tweets from my trip to South Station and my first experience with Cheeseboy. You can look at my Twitter feed @ekelly89, too. I definitely recommend grabbing a grilled cheese before any bus or train trip leaving from South Station you may have in the future!


The Wonderful World of Twitter

I created a Twitter account last spring when I was on co op in New York City. My boss was obsessed with Twitter, and would almost always open up our daily meeting with “I saw on Twitter today…” followed by an excerpt from an interesting article or comment about a newsworthy event that had occurred that day, though once or twice it was a ridiculous statement by a celebrity (cough, cough, Lindsay Lohan).

Then, I used Twitter to publicize the press releases my company was releasing, to follow the companies my public relations company was representing, as well as to follow updates from my favorite celebrities. It wasn’t until this summer that my sister started using Twitter, and I began using the site as more of a social network like Facebook.

Today, I use Twitter for a variety of reasons: To promote articles that I write myself, to share interesting articles with others and find interesting articles from others, to read updates from my favorite celebrities, and to communicate with my friends and family. On Tuesday, in my Reinventing the News class with professor Dan Kennedy, we were taught how to use Twitter to find valuable resources for our beat topics. By searching terms such as “entpreneurs,” “entreprenuialism,” “entrepreneurship” and “startups” on Twitter as well as Twitter accounts through Listorious, I was able to find multiple contacts and Twitter feeds that were tweeting valuable information related to my focus on entrepreneurs and the businesses they create.

Here are 10 of the many great Twitter feeds I found that I hope will help provide me with valuable resources for future use in this blog:

@StartupWeekend: Hosting the tag line, “Create Communities and Companies in a Weekend,” Startup Weekend’s Twitterfeed tweets about the actual event of Startup Weekend, which is a 54-hour event focusing on startup companies that provides networking, resources and incentives for individuals, helping them to go from the idea stage to the launch stage. However, the feed also includes updates about different startup companies that have stemmed from Startup Weekend.

@VC20 (Venture Capital 2.0): This Twitter feed represents the Grow Venture Community, the first crowdfunding platform for seed funding startups. Here’s an interesting Tweet from their feed: “What Is The Value Of An Idea? http://grow.vc/h2NojV #startups,#vc#crowdfundinghttp://bit.ly/fhx0Bq

@IncMagazine: Inc Magazine’s tag line reads, “The magazine for entrepreneurs. Broadcasting live from New York City.” I’m surprised this didn’t come up at #1 when I searched “Entrepreneur” on Twitter! The feed links to articles within the magazine’s website, however it also links to outside sources and polls its readers, provoking participation.

@33needs: 33needs, which is a Twitterfeed for a social investing project, came up on my search because it tweeted, “What exactly is a Social Entrepreneur? http://ow.ly/4bQui.” The feed includes a lot of information and links to articles relevant to social entrepreneurship, for those “green” entrepreneurs. It also encourages others to invest, invest, invest!

@BusinessCait: Caitlyn of @BusinessCait is a self-proclaimed “startup addict.” Her feed links to videos, statistics, articles, polls and other outsides sources related to entrepreneurship, venture capitals and branding. She encourages others to get out there and make their ideas become reality, and enjoys hearing about what other people are doing with their ideas. Find out more about Caitlyn by reading her blog.

@MyPROStart: “Here to assist entrepreneurs get a head start in creating their own life by design,” reads the Twitterfeed of MyProStart, the Twitter account of PRO, a virtual community of entrepreneurs looking for alternative ways to accomplish their entrepreneurial goals. Tweets include links to articles, such as the top 50 startups in Washington state, and commentary about what is going on within the world of startups.

@CEOWannaBe: “Should Your Startup Offer Virtual Internships? http://rww.to/gNo7De” is a question Tweeted by CEOWannaBe, who describes him/herself as a successful executive in a Fortune 500 company that is looking to make it to the top of leadership–through entrepreneurship and creative business. The feed features advice and commentary about the world of entrepreneurship, along with the account holder’s individual experience in their quest to make it to the top.

@eRoundTable: Entrepreneurs Roundtable is a non-profit global organization that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and eRoundTable is their Twitter account. The feed includes information about networking events, small business tips and posts information about their Accelerator Program, which helps entrepreneurs succeed in their business.

@youTern: YouTern helps connect emerging talent (aka, the entrepreneur) with startup companies, non-profits focusing on social change, and human resources through internships. The Twitter feed posts information about available internships for individuals looking for the right opportunity.

@Danielbru: Daniel Brusilovsky is an 18-year-old entrepreneur. He is the founder of Teens in Tech Labs, a company that focuses on helping connect and provide entrepreneurs to resources and tools. Already an accomplished young adult, Brusilovsky tweets about his success as an entrepreneur as well as about his company and new happenings in the technology world.

Without Twitter, I probably would not have come across any of these people or organizations except for the two I was already aware of (Inc Magazine and Venture Capital 2.0), proving the value of Twitter accounts and how they can help spread and share information. I think by continuing to follow these accounts, I will be provided with not only more information, but more diverse information that is easily accessible.

You can keep yourself up-to-date with what I’m doing by visiting my Twitter account!


The Netflix of “Indie” Films

Recently, my friend Eric has become obsessed with seeing movies. Whenever he gets a free Saturday, he heads off to the movie theater and stays for at least two shows. His movie-going practices have made me want to see more movies also, yet I just don’t always have the time (or money) to go out and see everything Hollywood has to offer.

I feel like many people are bound by the same time constraints as I am, which is why Netflix has become so popular. However, some people aren’t into mainstream, popular movies. And that’s okay, because now, Fandor is available.

Fandor is a San Francisco start up that hopes to become “the Netflix of independent films,” according to an article I read on the San Francisco Chronicle online. Fandor made its debut on Wednesday, and includes a library of more than 2,500 movies, including the Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth.”

 

Fandor will use social networks to attract larger audiences to films from independent producers, who typically do not have the multi-millions available to large production houses to distribute their movies via DVD. For $9.99 per month, subscribers will be able to stream movies found only at film festivals or during limited-runs at art houses into their homes over the Internet.

The co-founders of the site, Jonathon Marlow and Dan Aronson have both been interested in indie films and decided to combine Marlow’s technological background with Aronson’s film festival programming experience.

According to Fandor founder and CEO Dan Aronson, these films are “the best movies that people haven’t heard about.” So if you’re a movie buff and want to try something new, check out this unique start up today!


The Success Story of Groupon

Last Friday, I traveled to California for spring break to visit my friend Catie who is interning in San Diego. I had an amazing time: I got to run along the beach in San Diego, go on the rides at Disneyland (my favorite was Indiana Jones, you get to ride in a jeep!), mingle with Californians at local San Diego bars, walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard, ride the ferris wheel in Santa Monica and drink multiple margaritas in Old Town. It was, by far, the best spring break I have ever had.

While I was staying with Catie, she told me about all the great deals she had been buying through Groupon, a startup that offers daily deals on food and services in cities across the country and throughout the world. Through the site, visitors can buy great deals at discounted prices, such as 50 percent off at restaurants or pay $10 for $20 worth of merchandise on Amazon.com. So far, Catie has purchased a hot-air balloon ride at half-price, a sky diving session at half-price, and a discounted pedicure.

While I have used the site before, I never really thought of it as a startup because it got so popular so fast. However, once upon a time, Groupon was just an idea in the mind of an entrepreneur.

That entrepreneur was Andrew Mason. In 2007, he started a company called ThePoint, a platform that allows users to create donation campaigns for different causes. The website allows users to pledge money, providing their credit card number and information, yet no money is actually donated until a certain “tipping point,” or number of people joining the campaign, is reached.

The idea of “collective action” inspired Mason to create a small WordPress blog in fall 2008, named Groupon, that was powered by ThePoint and provided daily deals, like the deals the site promotes today. By summer 2009, Mason and his team shifted their focus to Groupon due to the rising success of the site. While ThePoint did not gain the recognition Mason had hoped, Groupon took off.

Today, Groupon is among the most popular startups in the world. The company made group-buying a worldwide phenomenon in just two years, and expanded to 1,600 employees and increased its value to more than $1 billion. Now, there are many other sites mimicking the idea of collective buying, such as LivingSocial, Dealster, and BuyWithMe.

Check out this article, where Mason gives some advice regarding startup companies. And in the meantime, check out Groupon for some great deals!